I acknowledge the Traditional Owners on whose land I walk, I work and I live. I pay my respects to Elders past, present and future.

Monday, 4 April 2016

From mining field to cane field, the great migration of houses

Dotted around the Herbert River district are a few houses that are architectural gems. As each year passes another one or two disappear. They are architectural gems because they are constructed in what has come to be recognized as a typically north Queensland style, a style whose suitability to the humid, tropical conditions in which we live is now no longer appreciated, except by a few. However, what is a noteworthy and consistent feature of houses in the Herbert River district is that many of them are the result of earlier removal and reconstruction over relatively short distances, for example: Gairloch to Cordelia as in the case of Brooklands or down a flooded river from Abergowrie to Cordelia as in the case of the former Oakleigh.
The most remarkable of these removal and reconstruction feats are the houses, of which there are several, that were transported over the great distance from Charters Towers. While the mining fields boomed, substantial houses were built, but as the fields dried up and the population moved on, houses too migrated from the mining towns to the coast. This was particularly prevalent in the 1920s when most of the examples in the Herbert River district arrived. Disassembled and brought in sections on bullock train, tram line, horse line and portable line on cane trucks they were there reassembled. Where they may have been formerly sited on low stilts, in the Herbert River district, because of the threat of flood they were often reassembled on high stilts. Key examples, still lived in, are Evandale, the former Rowe home, on Stone River Road, and the Russo farm house at Hawkins Creek which was originally a presbytery in Charters Towers.
Surrounded by picturesque and well kept gardens, and cane fields, these houses could sometimes maintain three or four families, and be vibrant with visitors and guests who might come for a few days and stay on indefinitely!
On Saturday March 26, the Russo family of Hawkins Creek celebrated the centenary of their sugar farm. This celebration was a tribute to the tenacity and vision of an immigrant Italian family which has withstood one hundred years of the highs and lows and battles with nature that is sugar farming. Determined to keep the farm a viable entity has seen the farm reinvent itself in recent times with the planting of a rice crop that will be alternated with the sugar assignment. The story of this remarkable immigrant Italian family and its achievement of over 100 years of sugar farming in the Herbert River district is one that it would be hoped the family will record in detail, in time, for the family to treasure and for a wider audience to enjoy. The celebrations, held on the farm, were back dropped by their farm house and its story is as fascinating as the lives of the families that have lived in it.

Source: Kerry Russo and family, Hawkins Creek

Tea party at Evandale, 1914

Evandale House with Rowe family, 1920
Source: Hinchinbrook Shire Library


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